In 1917, there is no escape from the tight grasp of the Mississippi delta, especially for a black young man. As James Hayes grows up tilling the soil with his disabled father and younger brother, all he can think about is how badly he wants out. Lured by stories of the Great Migration north, he dreams of the day when he will be able to leave and make his mark on the world. Finally on one October morning, eighteen-year-old James gets his chance.
When he is drafted and sent to France at the height of the Argonne Offensive by Germany, James becomes embroiled in the thick of battle, eventually standing out from other soldiers by winning the French Croix de Guerre. As the conflict ends in 1918, he ventures to Paris where he is invited to sing at a local bistro. Soon, he becomes a sensation, settles in his adopted country, and marries a local woman. But when he is called home to be near his terminally ill father, fate rises up to meet him and changes everything once again.
In this tale of hope and perseverance, a black World War I draftee from the Mississippi delta journeys from the trenches of the Western Front to 1920s Paris and back home again.