(CBS News) - In a downhome neighborhood on the outskirts of Birmingham, Ala., Rita James bought an abandoned building and built a happy home for the blues. Her tiny, unmarked Red Wolf club invites the entire community.
Just four years old, The Red Wolf is a real juke joint. It's roots go all the way back to Emancipation. In the old South, poverty made life more extreme. So folks found barns, shacks, anywhere - to play, sing and dance their sorrows away. Over time, these places became known as juke joints. Within their walls the blues were born.
Every Wednesday night, Wilson takes the microphone and gets the people on their feet. But it's the music that brings them together.(WEB EXTRA: Watch Wynton Marsalis jam with local musicians.)
"I just make them feel good," Wilson said. "That's just me period. Anywhere. I make the crippled feel good - make them think they can walk again."
First-timer BJ Miller drove 500 miles from St. Louis for a chance to blow her trombone in a place where spirits are served, and freed.
"It's not that they just serve alcohol," Miller said. "It's that they are serving musicians the opportunity to express themselves - and that's not everywhere."
"The blues has good and sad, so it's for good too," Wilson said. "And you know I like the blues. I like music period, I like all music, so music cheer me on and make me feel good."
The blues are good for the soul. Their rhythms are inseparable from the American identity, and they're not naive. The blues tell us bad things happen all the time, and they do, and we can engage with them. The blues are like a vaccine. If you want to get rid of something, give yourself a little bit of it, and when the real thing comes - you're ready for it.
If Rita has any say in the matter, they'll be an integral and constant part of the future. Wilson said her club will stay open, "until I drop."