Thin storyline but who cares when there’s so much great music around? Lena Horne, Cab Calloway and the incomparable Fats Waller are all here. Bill Robinson as Bill Williams looks back on his career and how he met Selina Rogers (Lena Horne).
Out in Hollywood tap dancer Bill Robinson is telling some neighborhood kids about his career and showing them a few steps. A magazine is delivered with Bill’s picture on the cover.
His first recollection is coming into New York as a member of James Europe’s Military Band. His friend Gabe is with him. World War One is over and it’s time to party. That night Gabe tries to impress his girlfriend that he’s a big deal. Bill is smitten with singer Selina Rogers (Lena Horne). She’s the sister of Bill’s close friend who was killed in the war.
Selina and Bill do a dance number and then James Europe (Ernie “Bubbles” Whitman) strikes up the band and Selina does a song. Gabe tries to impress his girl by saying he put manager Chick Bailey into show biz. Here comes Chick. He’s Selina’s manager and he’s jealous of how Selina and Bill look at each other.
Selina wants Bill to stay in New York with her and become a dancer. He says he has a job waiting in Memphis. He works at Ada Brown’s Beale Street Cafe. He’s a waiter. The highlight of the night is a couple numbers by Fats Waller including a rousing version of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Chick offers a job in the show to Fats and Ada. She convinces him to take Bill.
Chick pulls a fast one and makes Bill a tom tom player in a production number. Bill has had it and takes it upon himself to do a dance number with the drums. The audience goes nuts and then so does Chick when he realizes the applause isn’t for him. Back in Selina’s dressing room Bill tells her Chick fired him. Chick comes in and gets a knock out punch from Bill.
Back to the present.
Bill is putting on his own show in New York. While walking down the street Bill runs across Gabe who is shining shoes. When his customer leaves Bill tells Gabe the show is in trouble. The chorus girls haven’t been paid in a week and they’re refusing to perform until they get their money. Gabe says to leave it to him.
At the theatre the girls are standing outside. Bill says an angel is on his way to take care of them. Gabe pulls up in a chauffeur driven car smoking a big cigar. The trick works and the girls go on. Then one performer recognizes Gabe as the man who shines his shoes. Gabe is in trouble now.
Bill is now telling the kids about how Selina went to Paris and became a big star. Bill showed her plans for the house and their future but fame called. Cab Calloway drives up and tells Bill there’s going to be a big party for the soldiers about to go overseas. The rest of the movie is one big number after another.
Music fans can’t miss this one. Cab’s band includes Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Jo Jones, Taps Miller and Zutty Singleton.
Ernie “Bubbles” Whitman hosted the “Jubilee” show on Armed Forces Radio during World War Two.