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Brought up on a showboat, Magnolia Hawks, the star of her family's river-going revue, marries Gaylord Ravenal, a charming river gambler. Magnolia's father, Captain Andy, is swept overboard in a storm, and Magnolia and Gaylord, harassed by Magnolia's strict, overbearing mother, sell their interest in the showboat to the widow and go to Chicago. Gaylord loses the money at the gambling tables, and, following the suggestion of Magnolia's mother, leaves his family, convinced that they would be better off without him. To support herself and her child, Magnolia goes on the variety stage and makes a success singing Negro spirituals. Magnolia's mother dies, and Magnolia returns to the showboat to be reunited with the reformed Gaylord.