New Orleans is divided into haves and have nots, with Black characters having the least.
Haves: Mrs. Rutledge Smith (Irene Rich) is a New England society-woman who’s taken an interest in New Orleans (while wanting nothing to do with its jazz culture). She’s dismayed when her daughter, Miralee Smith (Dorothy Patrick) — a ‘well-bred’ opera singer — takes to the ragtime scene, but over time she’s also won over by the vigor of live jazz. The film’s dramatic finale shows Miralee performing a ragtime number for shocked opera patrons, beaming in her mother’s support. With the exception of a vague nod to the spirit of New Orleans, none of the Black musicians who originated jazz are present for their mainstream debut.
Have-Nots: Throughout the film, Louis Armstrong (as himself) and Billie Holiday (as Endie) are only on-screen when they’re interacting with white characters. Taken down a peg from their real-life acclaim, Armstrong and Holiday’s characters are both working-class — one a cabaret trumpet-player, and the other a singing housemaid. Both characters are kindly and accommodating, never crossing the lines of their social positions.
Louis and Endie are in love with each other, but the only interactions between them are their musical performances. (Whereas the romance between Miralee and Nick, played by Arturo de Còrdova, has a lion’s share of screentime.)