For a brief moment in 1970, Bird of the Iron Feather was one of the most-talked about programs on local television.
Produced by Chicago public television station WTTW, Bird was television's first black soap opera. But the program dodged the usual soap opera plot conventions and took an unflinching look at the harsh realities of ghetto life. Race. Poverty. School desegregation. Police brutality and corruption. Set in Chicago and coming on the heels of late 1960s racial unrest here and across the country, Bird was as topical as the evening news.
But the show was canceled after a few months. And episodes of Bird have been rarely seen and never aired since.
Until now, at least. Check out the video above. In a bit of insomnia last night, I ran across a link to the archives of television historian and author J. Fred MacDonald, professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University. Among the treasures there, MacDonald has a full episode of Bird of the Iron Feather that aired January 14, 1970.
Bird's opening credits featured a swinging and supremely funky theme song performed by Oscar Brown Jr. with Jimmy Ellis on sax.