On a pleasant day in Hollywood, California, Bill "Corky" Williamson, a semi-retired tap dancer, is teaching his craft to a group of neighborhood children when the mailman delivers a special edition of "Theatre World." The magazine is celebrating "the magnificent contribution of the colored race to the entertainment of the world during the past twenty-five years" and features Bill on the cover. As Bill reads the various dedications from his old friends, he reminisces about the early days of his career. One such dedication from Noble Sissle inspires Bill to remember the hero's welcome he and fellow members of Jim Europe's 15th New York Regiment band received when they returned from France after World War I: Bill and his best friend Gabe live it up in high style in New York City, and Gabe pretends to be a rich talent manager in order to impress his scatterbrained girl friend. At a hall set up as a nightclub for the returning servicemen, Bill sees a beautiful woman and discovers to his amazement that she is Selina Rogers, the sister of a close friend who died in the war. After Selina and Bill dance together, Selina is introduced as the evening's star and joins Jim Europe's band in a song. Selina and Bill are attracted to each other, but her manager, Chick Bailey, gets jealous and intervenes. Selina tries to convince Bill to stay in New York and pursue a dancing career, but Bill says he has a job waiting for him in Memphis and plans to stay there until he can make something of himself. In Memphis, Bill finds work on a riverboat, but when he dances with a group of talented minstrels on board, they encourage him to go down to Beale Street to secure a job as a dancer. One night at Ada Brown's Beale Street café, where Bill has been hired as a waiter, Bailey and Selina stop by looking for new talent to star in Bailey's new show. After Bailey offers roles to Ada, a singer, Fats, a piano player and the café's band, Selina begs him to take Bill, too. Bailey reluctantly agrees and hires Bill as an extra tom-tom player in a dance number. One evening, Bill, frustrated with his assigned role, performs a complex stair-step dance on the drums while Bailey sings. The crowd goes wild, and it takes several seconds before Bailey realizes that they are applauding Bill. When he discovers Bill's ruse, he kicks him out of the theater, but Bill punches Bailey and then has the last word when Selina agrees to go with him for a sandwich in defiance of Bailey. Back in the present, Bill is pleased to read a dedication from former enemy Bailey, who pompously has written that he was the first to recognize Bill's talent. Bill then wonders about his old friend Gabe: As Bill is about to put on his own show, he runs into Gabe, who is working as a bootblack in Harlem. Bill's show is in danger of failing because the chorus girls, who have not been paid, are threatening to quit before the first performance. To help Bill, Gabe shows up at the theater pretending to be a rich impressario and tricks the group into performing. When one of the performers, however, recognizes Gabe as the man who has shined his shoes many times, the group once again turns on him and Bill. Fortunately, Gabe's hired driver has just won money at the races. He agrees to pay the performers' salaries, and the show goes on. Later, Bill, who has earlier married Selina, asks her to move to a little house with him and raise children, but Selina tells him that she must continue to work. She goes to Paris, where she becomes a renowned star. In the present, as Bill is relaxing on his front porch with the neighborhood children, Cab Calloway stops by to pick him up for a big party, which will honor the men who are going overseas to fight in World War II. At the show, Bill reunites with a jive-talking Gabe, who is now working for Cab, and sees Selina perform. Later, she tells him that she wants to return to him and start a family. After several performances by Cab, Gabe and others, Bill and Selina appear together and all ends on a happy note.